China plans to replace Hong Kong leader Lam
Beijing: China is drawing up a plan to remove Hong Kong's beleaguered Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the Financial Times reported Wednesday, after nearly five months of pro-democracy unrest.
The pro-Beijing leader has faced sustained criticism from protesters in the semi-autonomous city. So far, the Chinese central government has given its support to her and the Hong Kong police, calling the demonstrators "rioters" and condemning the violence.
But according to the FT report, which quoted unnamed figures briefed on the deliberations, Beijing is drawing up a plan to replace her with an interim chief executive.
However, sources told the newspaper that the plan would be dependent on the situation in the city first stabilising so that the central government is not seen as giving in to violence.
Beijing rejected the report as "a political rumour with ulterior motives".
"The central government firmly supports Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam... to put an end to violence and chaos and restore order as soon as possible," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing.
Lam's office said it would not comment on speculation.
Hong Kong has been battered by 20 weeks of protests and with no political solution in sight, clashes have intensified each month. Earlier this month, Lam — who has refused to grant any major concessions to protesters — invoked a colonial-era emergency law to ban face masks, setting off a new wave of protests and vandalism that shut down much of the city's transport network.
One of the protest leaders, Jimmy Sham, was hospitalised after being attacked by unknown assailants wielding hammers last week.
If President Xi Jinping decides to go ahead with the plan to remove Lam, the report said her replacement would be installed by March.
Leading candidates being considered to replace her reportedly include Norman Chan, former head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and Henry Tang, who has also served as the territory's financial secretary and chief secretary for administration.
Tang said in a statement that he supported Lam and would not comment on speculation.
Lam's ouster may not be enough to allay the concerns of Hong Kong's protesters.
"The plan definitely has come too late as Carrie Lam's net support... dropped to a disastrous level as early as four months ago," said political analyst Dixon Sing.